The final part!
Links to the previous parts are here:
Chapter 1: A Lovely Noose
Chapter 2: A Lovely Surprise
Chapter 3: A Lovely Story
Chapter 4: The Unfinished Story
Chapter 5: A Lovely Dinner
Chapter 6: A Lovely Confession and a Spat
Chapter 7: To Hell and Back
Chapter 8: A tête-à-tête
Chapter 9: The Ugly Truth
Chapter 10: Unanswered Questions
Chapter 11: Will She Won’t She
Sonu flinched but rallied.
“Fine.” He nodded. “I’ll wait until you know. But,” he shook a finger at her, “But be prepared to be pestered for the rest of your life.” He warned. “Once I get a bee in my bonnet,” he shrugged. “Anyway would you like to see a movie?”
“Movie?” She was thrown. “What movie?”
“I was thinking the latest Ant-man movie.”
“I don’t like these stupid action sci-fi type of movies.”
“Have you seen any Ant-man movie?”
“I haven’t seen any.” Lovely admitted. “But I don’t…”
“So how can you say you don’t like them?” Sonu challenged.
“That’s neither here not there,” Lovely was exasperated, “I am not interested…”
“That’s your problem,” Sonu leaned back, “you are a stick in the mud.”
“What!” Lovely was affronted. “How dare…?”
“But of course! Even though you haven’t never eaten something before,” he indicated the untouched plate of tortillas between them, “or seen something you already know that you don’t like it,” he mocked. “No spirit of adventure at all.”
“You have absolutely no idea of what or who I am!” Lovely shot back. “And don’t you dare question my spirit of adventure. Have you tried paragliding?” she sneered. “I bet not.”
“And you have?”
“Of course. River rafting, rappelling, kayaking and even jumping off the cliff.” She ticked them off on her fingers with a semblance of animation. “Adventure sports give me such an adrenaline rush! I still have to do the flying fox and bungee jumping.”
“That’s what I am giving you a chance at,” he slipped in slyly, “bungee jumping, in fact a whole range of adventure sports.”
She frowned puzzled. “Apart from being a wedding planner you are running an adventure sports unit or what?”
“Actually I am terrified of adventure sports,” he confessed, “I had a narrow escape during a school trip while river rafting. I fell off and I didn’t know swimming.” He paused. “I still don’t know swimming. In fact I am terrified of the water.”
“Isn’t marriage like bungee jumping? Or for that matter like any of the adventure sports?”
She looked at him resignedly. “Are we back to that?”
“Yes. And I will keep coming back to it until you agree.”
“And then what? Move on to another unattainable toy?”
“Oh so that’s your problem!” He said with dawning understanding. “You think once we get married, I’ll forget about you and ignore you.”
She looked uncomfortable. “Partly. Yes.”
“So how about living in?”
“Oh my God.” Lovely clapped a hand to her head. “You don’t give up do you?”
“Nope. Not while I am alive and kicking.”
“Fine.” She crossed her arms. “And I won’t give in. Let the battle begin.”
Sonu rubbed his hands in glee. “Shall we begin with tortilla and Ant-man?”
She laughed. “You are incorrigible.”
He scratched his head. “What’s incorrigible?”
“Does it mean you love me?”
“You are impossible!”
“Nothing’s impossible.” He grinned. “Except for me.”
“And you are insufferable and arrogant.”
“Rubbish!” He denied. I am very humble and down to earth. Should we begin with tortilla and Ant-man?”
Lovely shook her head. “That would be too easy.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll have to begin with learning how to swim and then graduate to bungee jumping.”
“Whew.” He moped his brow. “And if I do, will you marry me?”
She rolled her eyes and looked away.
“Fine!” He threw down his napkin. “I’ll do it. But on condition.” He put his hand on the table palm up. “When I jump off the cliff you’ll hold my hand.”
She slid her hands under the table.
He shrugged. “Fine. I’ll just change the rules then.” He scrolled through his phone.
“Rules? What rules?”
“Rules of the game.”
“Are we playing a game?”
“Of course.” He looked up from his mobile. “One of the world’s most age-less time-less games.” Her eyes dropped before his.
“Okay and done!” He put down his phone. “I just enrolled myself for swimming classes.”
“Good.” She made a move to get up.
“Do you dance?” He wasn’t finished.
“Dance?” she frowned. “Where did that come from?”
“Never mind.” He said impatiently. “Just answer me.”
“I learned some Kathak in school. I even gave a stage performance in school.”
“That’s great. So you like dancing?”
“I guess.” She said warily.
“While I learn swimming, you will learn dancing.”
“Why not?” Argued Sonu. “Dancing is a great stress buster. It frees you and relaxes you. And the best part? I will learn along with you.”
She stared. “You’ll learn Kathak?”
“Not Kathak! Western dance rumba jive salsa,” he coughed, “Waltz.”
“You think you are very smart don’t you?”
“I don’t think.” He looked modest. “I am.”
“Well I am smarter than you.” She picked up her bag. “Thank you but no thank you.” She stood up.
“All those questions you asked?” He didn’t look up from his phone. “The ones we didn’t have an answer to?” She dropped her bag and sat down. “I think they apply to you as well.”
“What do you mean?” She frowned.
“I think you are also part of this system, this society. Even though you are being given a chance you are refusing to take it. You also blame yourself. You also think you are impure and you are unworthy of marrying.”
She paled. “Rubbish.” She said weakly.
“Is it?” He pressed home his advantage. “If it was a broken bone, an otherwise kind of a physical assault would you have been so traumatized?”
“You don’t understand.” She spoke through stiff lips.
“Perhaps. Make me understand. Isnt that why you want to be an IAS officer? To help women get justice? To liberate them to free them? How will you do that if you yourself aren’t free? If you stop yourself from moving on, going ahead with your life…”
“You don’t understand…”
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself. If you want to change the world, first change yourself.”
“Change myself how?” Her eyes shot daggers. “By marrying you? You think marriage is the solution to everything?”
“Not everything. Something. And change doesn’t happen overnight.” He looked at her. “I am not asking you to marrying me tomorrow or next month or even next year. I am just asking you to take that one little step,” he paused, “with me.” He broke off a piece of the tortilla and held it out. “Try it.” When she hesitated, he insisted. “Trust me.” he paused. “At least in this.”
She accepted the gauntlet and popped into her mouth. She chewed experimentally even as he flashed her a confident triumphant smile. “Nice isn’t it?”
She downed a glass of water and shook her head. “On the contrary, quite awful.”
She almost laughed at his crestfallen expression. But he quickly rallied. “So fine you don’t like it but I am sure you’ll like tacos. They are…”
“Oh please Sonu!” Lovely raised a hand. “Could we have some decent old-fashioned Indian food? I am starving.”
“Sure.” He beamed. “But for dessert you must have their cheesecake. Have you had it?” She shook her head. “It’s out of the world.” He drooled.
“Better than jalebis?”
“Jalebi is your favorite?”
She shook her head. “No. In fact I don’t like them at all.”
He stared. “Then?”
“I was just trying to understand how bad this cheesecake would be.” There was a glint in her eyes.
“Very smart.” He gave her a resigned look. “Just wait until you try the cheesecake. You can change my name if you don’t like it.”
She tapped her cheek. “Hmm let me see…”
He leaned back in his chair. “No rush. Take your time. You have an entire lifetime to think up names for me.”
“Why waste an entire lifetime?”
His chair scraped. “If you think it would be a waste then may as well forget it.”
“Giving up so easily?” Her voice was low.
She drew in a deep breath. “I meant it for you.” At his puzzled look, she continued. “Why waste your entire life on a…a…a lost cause?”
His lips twisted. “You think I am doing this for you?”
“I am flattered that you think so highly of me.”
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
“That you think I could be so self-sacrificing and caring about others.” He shook his head. “Sorry to break your illusions darling, but I care only and only about myself and my feelings.” He leaned forward. “I am not proposing to you because I am concerned about you, your feelings your future. Nope. It’s all about me. What I will do without you.”
She looked at him helplessly, drawn despite herself. She stiffened.
“Big words.” She jeered. “Easy to say, easier to forget.”
“You are a tough nut aren’t you?”
“And difficult to be with.” She added.
“And selfish and self-centered.”
Hurt flashed in her eyes before blanking out. “I don’t get where you get that from.”
“From this.” He gestured between them. “You are just concerned about your feelings the possible impact if some eventuality happens in the distant future. What about me?”
“What about you?”
“What about my feelings? What about the impact of your rejection on my present?”
She rolled her eyes. “Stop dramatizing.”
“And you lack empathy too.”
“I do not.” She was cut.
“Just because you cannot see my broken, wounded heart, just because I am not crying, you think I am fibbing, joking.” He paused. “What else can I do when my life is slipping out of my hands right in front of my eyes?”
“I am not convinced.” But she was shaken at the look in his eyes.
“If you insist.” He nodded briskly. “I will wait until you admit it.”
“That you love me.”
Her eyes flew to his. She stiffened and glared at him. “Don’t you think you are presuming too much?”
He shrugged. “I am no fool madam. And neither are you. If you didn’t love me, you would have walked away long ago and I would be nursing a broken jaw.”
Her lips twitched.
“So,” he smiled, “I will wait until you are ready to say it.”
“What if I never say it?”
“There is no end to what ifs.” He waved his hands impatient. “Shall we go?”
She looked at her watch. “Oh. Yes it is very late.” She stood up.
“If we hurry we can still catch Ant-man.”
“Ant-man?! I thought we were going home!”
“Soon. Very soon.” His eyes were warm.
She blushed and looked away. “But I am warning you that I am not going to join any dance classes.”
“Hey! A deal is a deal!”
“Deal?” she was incredulous. “What deal? I never agreed to any deal.”
“You will.” He was confident.
“You are pushy.”
“So are we back to character analysis?” He waved a hand. “Be my guest, but let me warn you it is a waste of time if you are looking for shortcomings and faults.”
“And brash and audacious.”
“Perhaps just the tiniest bit.” He admitted.
“Overbearing and overconfident.”
“Confident not overconfident.”
Their voices faded into the distance.
*** The Beginning***
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